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The History of Generic Drugs in the United States

Updated: Mar 20

Believe it or not, substituting a brand-name drug with a generic drug hasn't always been a choice consumers could make!

Generic or brand name?’ It’s a common question you’ll get asked when you’re filling a prescription at your local pharmacy. If you’re interested in saving a few dollars, then taking the generic option is always a good choice, and you may be surprised to learn that you’re not alone.

In 2017, according to the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM), nine out of every ten prescriptions were a generic drug. In fact, when both the brand name and generic options were available, consumers chose the generic option 97% of the time.

When available, consumers will choose the generic drug option over the brand name option 97% of the time.

We take it for granted now that there will be a cheaper version of a drug available when we fill our prescriptions, but that wasn’t always the case.

In 2020, Americans spent an estimated $348.4 billion on prescription drugs. So, it’s easy to see why choosing a generic option over a brand name has allowed consumers to save billions of dollars. However, it wasn’t always this way.

Two pill bottles: generic vs. brand-name drugs.

Timeline of Generic Drugs in the United States